How Mindfulness Became a Multi-Million Dollar Brand

A new book explores the problematic rise of "McMindfulness"

The meditation app Headspace has been accused of monetizing mindfulness.
(Photo by Jens Kalaene/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Looking to appropriate a Buddhist practice and secularize it for self-aggrandizing purposes that completely subvert the very principles on which it was initially founded? There’s an app for that.

In recent years, ‘mindfulness,’ has attracted mainstream attention in western countries as a secular practice of personal wellness. The growing popularity of the mindfulness movement has spawned hugely successful products, including meditation apps like Headspace, which critics have accused of commodifying and misappropriating the practice.

In the new book Mindfulness and its Discontents, David Forbes explores the rise of so-called ‘McMindfulness,’ explaining how capitalism seized the practice and turned it into a booming industry.

“McMindfulness occurs when mindfulness is used, with intention or unwittingly, for self-serving and ego-enhancing purposes that run counter to both Buddhist and Abrahamic prophetic teachings to let go of ego-attachment and enact skillful compassion for everyone,” Forbes explains in a recent excerpt published by the Guardian.

“Instead of letting go of the ego, McMindfulness promotes self-aggrandizement,” he argues. “Its therapeutic function is to comfort, numb, adjust and accommodate the self within a neoliberal, corporatized, militarized, individualistic society based on private gain.”

Forbes points to an internet image of Ronald McDonald seated in a lotus position as the unofficial mascot of western McMindfulness. “Some Thai Buddhists see this in literal terms as disrespectful to the Buddha; others are rightly critical of the colonialist and harmful cultural appropriation of Buddhism by the west and the lack of regard for Asian Buddhism in the US and Canada,” he explains.

Meanwhile, meditation apps like Headspace which, according to Forbes, boasts an estimated annual revenue of $50 million — contribute to the western perversion of mindfulness “by negating and downplaying actual social and political contexts and focusing on the individual, or more so, the individual’s brain.”

“The technical, neutral definition of mindfulness and its relativist lack of a moral foundation has opened up secular mindfulness to a host of dubious uses,” Forbes writes.

Mindfulness for sale. Download it while it’s hot.

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